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The Insatiable Sea

Sven Birkerts is the editor of AGNI. He recently wrote an article for the AGNI Newsletter (subscribe here): “Five Things the Submitting Writer Should Know.”

Birkerts invokes the phrase “the insatiable sea” to describe the slush pile at AGNI because:

“…while the submitter thinks of herself as a lone writer writing (at least this submitter has always thought of himself that way), the magazine editor hauling in the bin packed with envelopes—or nowadays opening the Submissions Manager on the office computer—cannot but react each time to the quantity, the oceanic volume.”

Let’s say it again. Oceanic. Volume. Of submissions.

So, what goes on after we hit “submit”? Birkerts offers these five insights.

1. At AGNI, unsolicited submissions are sorted into one of three categories: “not right for us, look more closely, and promising.” More than 60 percent are “not right for us.” About a quarter percent are “look more closely.” And about 10 percent get passed along to first readers as “promising.” Maybe less.

2. Of the more than 60 percent of submissions that don’t make the first cut, “this is in many cases less because the work is not accomplished in its way, but because its way is not ours.” That is, the author has submitted a piece to AGNI that doesn’t fit the magazine’s aesthetic. Writers can save themselves time and frustration (and heartbreak) by researching each magazine ahead of time to see if that magazine publishes writing like ours.

3. Cover letters are nice, but the opening lines are more important than anything else. “As an editor confronting the day’s abundance, I want to find a reason to stop reading as soon as I can,” Birkerts says. “As an editor in love with good writing, I want to find that I cannot stop.”

4. Submitting a piece that’s right for the magazine is much more important than any of your publication credits or awards. Birkerts says, “Finding myself unable to stop reading the work of a new or unfamiliar writer is—well, it’s frankly one of the two or three things that make this job compelling to me.”

5. This last one is hardest to define, so here’s Birkerts again:

Finally, most important—and maybe the thing most rarely mentioned in discussions of literary magazines and what they look for—is the fact of the art itself: the fiction, poetry, or essay that arrives, whether on paper or backlit by computer light. That it should never seem to the person receiving it like a submission. That it should not feel like another rung on some writer’s ladder to some imagined success, a potential bit of cachet for the CV. That it should feel like—and be—an authentic and necessary expression, something that couldn’t not be written. That it be part of the long sustaining continuum of literature. We know when we are in the presence of that and, believe me, we are interested.

AGNI opens for submissions September 1. Click here to visit their website.

Reading Recs from Amber Flora Thomas

Amber Flora Thomas

Amber Flora Thomas

Amber Flora Thomas will lead the poetry workshop at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency, July 23-26, at East Carolina University, in Greenville.

This workshop will provide space and time for participants to generate new poems, evaluate existing poems, and engage with tool building activities and discussions to inspire revision and more writing. Our time will be divided between the critique of existing poems and the crafting of new poems. The environment in this workshop is one of support and encouragement, welcoming self-expression and development for writers at all levels. Participants will submit three poems in advance of the workshop (see below), all of which should not have been in a workshop elsewhere. Please be prepared to write during and outside workshop sessions, using writing prompts designed to help you “stumble to the door” and find those poems, no matter what.

Here are three books recommended by Amber, followed by a note from her about each:

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Writing Poetry by Richard Hugo
Hugo’s short collection of essays has been a staple of young poets for over thirty years. No matter how many times I read this work, it always manages to remind me of why I write poetry. And, I find in these pages how thick the mystery and magic still is, even after writing in this form for more than twenty years.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio
This is an excellent text for beginning and experienced writers seeking new approaches and entry places for the poem. It provides useful lessons, readings, and many helpful writing exercises, which I have been using my classes for ten years now.

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield
If you didn’t know the spiritual power of engaging in the act of creating the poem, then this book will help guide you toward a more intimate experience of poem. Hirshfield shares a vision of poetry that proves both spiritual and profound in helping the reader see the poem as a place that blends the outside experiences with the deepest places in our psyches.

The Squire Summer Writing Residency offers an intensive course in a chosen genre (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry), with ten hour-and-a-half sessions over the four days of the program. Registrants work in-depth on their own manuscript samples, as well as their colleagues’, while also studying the principles of the genre with their instructor. Other features include faculty readings, panel discussions, and open mic sessions for residents.

Registration is open through July 8. Register now!

Punsters U-Knighted in Durham

This spring, The Regulator Bookshop hosted the Fourth Annual Great Durham Pun Championship at Motorco in Durham.

Contestants went head-to-head in front of a sold-out crowd. Participants were assigned a subject; the first “punster” was given ten seconds to think of a pun. The second contestant then had ten seconds to retort, and so on, back and forth, until one punster ran out of lines.

Order was maintained by “Judge” George Gopen, Ph.D, JD, Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke.

If you like a good pun, or need a laugh on this Monday, check out these video highlights!

Reading Recs from Jan DeBlieu

Jan DeBlieu

Which stories in our lives most demand to be told? What themes connect them?

Jan DeBlieu will lead the Creative Nonfiction Workshop at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency. Her workshop participants will study the art of the personal essay, in which scraps of material with no apparent connection can be woven together to form elegant, compelling narratives. They will learn to create what John Gardner called the “fictive dream”: writing that, whether invented or true, draws readers wholly into their worlds.

Here, Jan talks a bit about what attendees can expect if they register for her class, and what she considers essential reading for anyone hoping to write compelling nonfiction.


In our sessions together, we will critique each other’s work, as well as look at true stories in which the authors skillfully include the components that make writing successful—compelling narratives, believable characters, and pacing that keeps the reader’s attention.

Here are some examples of works that succeed beautifully in these aspects.

1. Writing a personal essay can be an exploration for writer and reader alike. In his essay “Buckeye,” Scott Russell Sanders skillfully demonstrates how to bring a person—in this case his father—to life on the page, while telling a poignant, satisfying, and deeply moving story. How does he accomplish this? We’ll be examining this piece to see. Here’s a link to the essay in the online journal Terrain:

2. Love it or hate it, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is a page-turner, as well as a blockbuster bestseller. Even people who complain about the author’s self-absorption have difficulty putting the book down. Why?

The same is true of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s work. This prolific and acclaimed Norwegian writer is penning a six-volume autobiography (yes, really, and he’s not that old), and the first four volumes are quite popular in Europe. Many readers commented that Knausgaard’s two-part article “My Saga” was pretty strange—but that they just had to finish it.

What compels us to keep reading certain works? How do they pull us in? We’ll discuss this with an eye toward mixing some of that same irresistible quality into our own work.

3. John McPhee can make any subject interesting. He’s also a master of powerful, succinct description. In The Control of Nature, he tells the story of three different landscapes and how they shape the people within them. My favorite part of the book comes in the opening pages of the third section, “Los Angeles Against the Mountains.” Take a look at how McPhee crafts the opening scene—which features a family being trapped when an avalanche of rocks descends on their house.


The NCWN 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency runs July 23-26 at East Carolina University in Greenville. Registration is open through July 8, but only to the first forty-eight registrants. Don’t delay: register now!

Why Attend the Squire Summer Writing Residency?


Bo Bowden at 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency

The North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency runs July 23-26 at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. Registration is happening right now, and there are plenty of good reasons to join us Down East this summer, including our three amazing workshop offerings:

There will also be faculty readings, open mics for conference participants, and evening programs. Need more reasons to attend? Don’t take our word for it.

“The 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency offered three days to focus on writing alongside some amazing talent. Fellow participants shared their work and offered both encouragement and suggestion for my own. In addition to fifteen hours of workshop, highlights included Randall Kenan’s faculty reading and Shelby Stephenson’s dinner conversation, poetry reading, and banjo playing. It was a wonderful event!”
—Terri Anastasi, Raleigh, author of Fending

“The 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency in Raleigh was great! The fiction workshop with Randall Kenan was fresh and enlightening. In three and half days, we shared the equivalent of a week of class time. The camaraderie built was unique to this NCWN event—for me, it’s where the ‘network’ came to life! A fun way to build new friendships among writers in the Tar Heel State.”
—Bo Bowden, Richmond, VA

All registrations for the NCWN 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency must be received and paid in full by 5:00 pm, Wednesday, July 8.

Call to Action: Arts Budget Moves to Senate

Take action no later than Thursday, June 4!

The House budget is now in the hands of the Senate.

A vigorous grassroots response will be essential in convincing the Senate to accept the House recommendation for arts funding which includes:




  • Since 2008, the North Carolina Arts Council and its partners statewide have endured 35% in debilitating cuts. The $750,000 recommended by the House restores at 10%, still leaving the Council at a net loss of 25%.
  • The arts are partners with the Senate in creating a more friendly business environment. Quality of life is essential to attracting and expanding businesses and to recruitment and retention of skilled workers.
  • Include a short paragraph about how the arts improve the business climate of your community.
  • Offer support and affirmation for his/her service to North Carolina.
  • If you know the Senator personally, please call rather than send an email. Even if you do not know your Senator, a phone message is often more effective than an email
  • If you email, make sure your communication does not appear to be a “form” letter. Use your own Email Subject, such as From Your District or Please Support Arts Funding.

Please forward any responses you receive to


View the Revised Legislative Agenda here.


By Ed Southern

2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency

2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency

The North Carolina Writers’ Network is open to all writers, at all levels of skill and experience, working in all genres, with all manner of goals and aspirations.

We say it, and we mean it.

Because we mean what we say, we want to explain why we ask registrants for certain programs to submit manuscript samples with their registrations, and why we say those programs—namely, the Squire Summer Writing Residency, and the Master Classes at the Spring and Fall Conferences—are open only to “qualified registrants.”

When we ask for manuscript samples, we don’t care how good or bad the writing is. That’s not for us to judge.

We don’t care how long or short your list of publications is. We’re not looking for—we’re not here for—only writers with an arbitrary amount of experience.

We’re looking for evidence of dedication—dedication to the craft, to improving your craft, to approaching the craft of writing in a serious way.

We want to get the feeling that you’re ready to handle the intensive instruction you’ll receive at the Residency or in one of our Master Classes, whether you’re a beginner or a published author.

So if you’re wondering about applying to this year’s Residency at East Carolina University, don’t worry that you might not be “good enough.”

However good you are, or are not, the Residency will help you get better—but only if you’re ready and willing to dedicate yourself.

Registration for the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Squire Summer Writing Residency is now open. Space is limited to only forty-eight attendees, so register now!

Amplifying the Voices of Durham Youth

By Austin Evans

Durham’s literary future is looking brighter than ever with the advent of Durham Mighty Pen, a new organization dedicated to providing programs for children and adolescents centered on creative writing, publishing, and tutoring.

According to its website, the organization exists “because [we] believe critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills—cultivated seamlessly and with unparalleled effectiveness in creative writing contexts—are necessary in building confidence, opportunity, and community.”

The vision of Durham Mighty Pen is “a vibrantly diverse Durham in which every student has equal access to academic achievement, and acknowledges that ‘students armed with the power of words and creativity can engage their communities as agents of change, and break the cycle of poverty and marginalization from the inside out.'”

Durham Mighty Pen recently completed its inaugural program, “The Short of It,” a six-week collaborative short-story workshop created by Programming Director Matthew Arnold for students grades 6-8. The program was held on Tuesday nights from 6:00-7:00 pm at the Emily Krzyzewski Center at 904 W. Chapel Hill Street in Durham. The workshop culminated in the release of a collection of students’ workshop pieces on Sunday, May 17, as part of the Read Local Festival at Durham Central Park.

While Durham Mighty Pen will partner with local businesses and organizations around town to find accommodations for programming, an hour-long in-school program is currently being designed to help students become great peer editors. So, if you are a local classroom teacher, Durham Mighty Pen would love to be invited into your classroom to offer this unique opportunity to your students!

Future programming is still in the works, and Durham Mighty Pen is seeking volunteers and donors to help grow Durham’s first program explicitly committed to bringing high quality creative writing and publishing experience to underserved youth. There is a list of current volunteer openings, as well as a nice donation page that details exactly how your money will help amplify the creative voices of Durham’s youth. The organization has not yet acquired 501(c)(3) status, however, so you will have to contact Durham Mighty Pen directly with regards to making your donations tax deductible.

More information can be found at

Stitching North Carolina

Stitching North Carolina

Earlier this week, Joy Javits, founder of In the Public Eye: Effective Communication, keyed us into Stitching North Carolina: The 100 County Quilt Project.

From her e-mail:

During World War II, more young men from North Carolina were rejected from serving in the military because of health reasons than any other state. Not surprisingly, the state’s number of doctors and hospitals ranked near the bottom. North Carolina needed a state hospital!

Centralized Chapel Hill, where a two-year medical school, opened in 1879, was expanding to a four-year program, was seen as the logical setting for the state hospital which would serve all of its people regardless of ability to pay. North Carolina Memorial Hospital opened for business on September 2, 1952, and has grown into five hospitals in the years since.

Before celebrating the opening of the N.C. Women’s and N.C. Children’s hospitals in September 8, 2001, Joy Javits was tapped to lead a project that would represent all 100 counties served by the hospitals. The response was enthusiastic and along with drawings of their county flag by children, and writings by women, a brilliant quilt made by many hands was the centerpiece at the celebration.

Large as the quilt was, 27 counties were not represented, but “holder” blocks were sewn in to provide a place for them. The quilt, as well as the poems and county flags toured 18 counties over seven years. This past fall, Javits, along with writer Valarie Schwartz, had the idea of furthering the project and continuing the tour.

Below you will find instructions for whichever piece of this project is not represented by your county. We hope you will know someone in your county with the skills and interest to make this contribution. Please let us know how we can assist you, including who we need to contact if you are not the right person to help with this.

Please help us piece together the missing squares of our state quilt, complemented by the writings and drawings, to get
Stitching N.C. back on tour!

Here is the list of the the counties from which they do not have a piece of writing:

Anson, Ashe, Columbus, Gaston, Gates, Greene, Haywood, Hertford, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Mecklenburg, Lincoln, Mitchell, Montgomery, Northampton, Pender, Perquimans, Person, Polk, Richmond, Robeson, Rutherford, Sampson, Stokes, Surry, Vance, Wayne, Wilkes, Yadkin, Yancey.

If others wish to contribute a piece of writing that would be great too. They have a book of the contributions which is part of the Quilt Tour. In addition, the writings may be given as a gift to the patients in their hospital beds and to their caregivers, simply for their interest.

And here’s the submission information:

SEEKING: POEM or STORY written by a woman of the county about: UNC Healthcare, medicine, your county’s histories or glories or anything a patient at the hospital might like to read, as copies of the writings may be made available to patients and to their caregivers.

Typed or elegantly penned on standard, 8 1/2” x 11” paper (one page), laminated if possible (or emailed to below address), with name of writer and county on the front.

Joy Javits
Co-Coordinator of Stitching NC
410 Tadley Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

NBF Announces 2015 Innovations in Reading Prize

The National Book Foundation has announced the honorees for the 2015 Innovations in Reading Prize. Awarded annually since 2007, the prize honors an individual or organization that inspires readers and engages new audiences with literature, and has “supported a diverse range of individuals and organizations working locally, nationally, and internationally to create and sustain a lifelong love of reading.”

The 2015 winner is Reach Incorporated, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that “hires struggling teen readers as reading tutors for elementary school students.”

This year, for the first time in Innovations history, we awarded one $10,000 prize to an organization whose work is VITAL, demonstrating vision, ingenuity, transformation, achievement & leadership.

The honorable mentions were:

For more about the National Book Foundation, click here.